Energy drinks can deliver a quick jolt of energy, but are they harming your health? A growing body of evidence shows that energy-enhancing drinks can have adverse effects on your health when consumed in excess.
Like everything else in life, moderation is the key, and there are some potential benefits to these drinks. It is important to understand how energy drinks affect your body.
Are Energy Drinks Bad for You?
Like anything else in life, energy drinks can be bad for you. Yes, these drinks are formulated to give you energy and a mental boost, but that can come at a cost to your health.
That’s because energy drinks contain:
- High levels of caffeine
- High amounts of sugar
- Artificial flavors
Some drinks may contain other ingredients, like vitamins, antioxidants and minerals. But ultimately, it’s the caffeine and sugar in energy drinks that are the real concerns.
It’s generally recommended that adults consume a maximum of 400 mg of caffeine per day. Energy drinks typically only contain 80 mg of caffeine per 8 ounces, which is equivalent to a cup of coffee.
However, most energy drinks are sold in cans and bottles that are much larger than 8 ounces. Some are sold in 20-ounce cans. In this case, one can is equivalent to half of the recommended daily maximum caffeine limit. Three cans would put you well over the daily limit (600 mg).
Energy shots contain even higher amounts of caffeine – some as high as 714.3 mg/oz.
While caffeine is certainly a concern, energy drinks and shots also contain high amounts of sugar. One 16-ounce can may contain 49g of sugar or more.
Drinking sugary beverages in excess can lead to diabetes, weight gain and other health issues.
What the Research Shows
You know that energy drinks are high in caffeine and sugar, but how does that affect the body really? Here’s what the research shows:
Energy Drinks May Cause High Blood Pressure
A study in the Journal of the American Heart Association (1) found that consuming 32-ounces of energy drinks has been linked to elevated blood pressure and changes in the heart’s electrical activity. That study had a small sample size (only 18 people), but the results cannot be ignored.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, can lead to:
- Narrowed or damaged arteries
- Heart failure
- Coronary artery disease
- Cognitive impairment
- Kidney failure
Caffeine Intoxication is a Risk
Doses of caffeine that are equal to 200 mg or more have been linked to caffeine intoxication (2). The symptoms of intoxication can be unpleasant:
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Muscle twitching
Some energy drinks contain other stimulants that amplify the effects of caffeine.
Sleep Disturbance can Lead to Other Health Issues
Insomnia is a major concern with energy drinks, as poor-quality sleep can lead to other health issues.
The sleep-disturbing effects of energy drinks are such a concern that the U.S. military has warned troops against consuming them. A study from 2010 found that military personnel who drank three or more energy drinks were more likely to get four hour or less of sleep per night (3).
Energy Drinks Can Lead to Mental Health Issues in Adolescents
The high doses of caffeine and sugar in energy drinks can lead to mental health issues in adolescents.
A 2015 study (4) surveyed 68,043 Korean adolescents between ages 12 and 18 to analyze the effects of energy drinks. The survey found that energy drinks were associated with:
- Severe stress
- Sleep dissatisfaction
- Suicidal thoughts and attempts
- Depressive mood
Mixing Alcohol and Energy Drinks can be Dangerous
A growing trend among young adults is to mix energy drinks and alcohol, but doing so can be dangerous.
The stimulating effects of energy drinks can offset alcohol’s depressive effects. As a result, you feel less intoxicated, but your body is still impaired by alcohol. Simply put, combining alcohol and energy drinks may cause heavy drinking.
One study from Australia found that people were more likely to experience heart palpitations when they consumed energy drinks mixed with alcohol (5).
The Potential Benefits of Energy Drinks
While there is certainly evidence that energy drinks can have negative effects on your health, there may be potential benefits if consumed in moderation.
A Quick Energy Boost
The most obvious benefit of energy drinks is the quick energy boost that they provide. The caffeine, taurine and other ingredients work together to give you that jolt you need to get through the day.
Contains Other Beneficial Ingredients
Many energy drinks contain other beneficial ingredients, such as:
- B vitamins, which promote healthy blood cells, nerves, immune system and nervous system.
- Riboflavin, which can help alleviate muscle cramps and treat blood disorders.
- Pantothenic acid, which can help ease stress, anxiety, skin disorders and even allergies.
- Vitamin C, which boosts immune system function.
Improved Brain Function
Research shows that consuming energy drinks can improve brain function and reduce mental fatigue. A can or shot of an energy-boosting beverage can improve your reaction time, concentration and even your memory (6).
Some experts believe that the improved brain function is solely attributed to the caffeine content in energy drinks, but others suggest that the combination of sugar and caffeine are what have this effect.
Are Energy Drinks on the Keto Diet?
Despite the potential adverse effects of energy drinks, many people still consume them on a daily basis. Surprisingly, some energy drinks are keto-friendly.
As long as the drink is free of sugar, it is usually considered keto-friendly. Sugar-free variations have no carbohydrates or very low amounts of carbohydrates that won’t knock you out of ketosis. Zero-calorie, sugar-free energy drinks are the ideal option if you must drink energy drinks while on keto.
The Bottom Line
Energy drinks can be bad for your health when consumed in excess. In moderation, they may be beneficial to brain function while boosting energy levels. If you are following the keto diet and want to consume energy drinks, it’s important to make sure that you are choosing sugar-free and calorie-free variations to avoid being kicked out of ketosis.
1. Fletcher, E. A., Lacey, C. S., Aaron, M., Kolasa, M., Occiano, A., & Shah, S. A. (2017). Randomized Controlled Trial of High-Volume Energy Drink Versus Caffeine Consumption on ECG and Hemodynamic Parameters. Journal of the American Heart Association, 6(5), e004448. https://doi.org/10.1161/JAHA.116.0044488
2. Alsunni A. A. (2015). Energy Drink Consumption: Beneficial and Adverse Health Effects. International journal of health sciences, 9(4), 468–474.
3. Selasi Attipoe, Liam Delahanty, MC, USN, Mark Stephens, MC, USN (Ret.), Patricia A Deuster, Energy Beverage Use Among U.S. Service Members, Military Medicine, Volume 183, Issue 9-10, September-October 2018, Pages e554–e561, https://doi.org/10.1093/milmed/usy169
4. Park, S., Lee, Y. & Lee, J.H. Association between energy drink intake, sleep, stress, and suicidality in Korean adolescents: energy drink use in isolation or in combination with junk food consumption. Nutr J 15, 87 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-016-0204-7
5. Peacock, A., Bruno, R., & Martin, F. H. (2012). The subjective physiological, psychological, and behavioral risk-taking consequences of alcohol and energy drink co-ingestion. Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research, 36(11), 2008–2015. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1530-0277.2012.01820.x 6. Alford, C., Cox, H., & Wescott, R. (2001). The effects of red bull energy drink on human performance and mood. Amino acids, 21(2), 139–150. https://doi.org/10.1007/s007260170021